Elizabeth Scott, quilt maker, dies

Visionary quilt maker grew up in rural poverty and made art coverlets 'filled with hope and sadness and love'

  • Elizabeth Scott
Elizabeth Scott
May 03, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Elizabeth Scott, an art-quilt maker whose work was acclaimed by critics as "filled with hope and sadness and love," died of heart failure April 25 at her home in the Penn North section of West Baltimore. She was 95.

Born Elizabeth Caldwell near Chester, S.C., she was a middle child of 14. Her family sharecropped vegetables and cotton on the plantation where her grandparents had been slaves. Her grandfather was a basket weaver, potter and blacksmith. Her father, a railroad worker, made quilts. He brought home discarded fabric scraps and buttons from textile mills.

She moved to Baltimore in 1940 and lived in Sandtown-Winchester in houses on Mount Street and later Lorman Street. She met Charlie Scott Jr., a Bethlehem Steel crane operator, and the couple had a daughter, Joyce Scott, a visual and performing artist who lives in Baltimore.

"Our houses were beautiful. There wasn't a white wall in them. She got the landlords to paint the kitchen yellow and the dining room blue," her daughter said. "She picked out colorful wallpapers. She was quite a dresser, too. Once I got into art school I realized what a treasure she was."

Ms. Scott worked as a housekeeper and as a nanny. She also made and sold Southern-style foods — collard greens, chitterlings, and sweet potato and lemon meringue pies. Her customers were often the street arabbers. She also made wine.

"My mother was always a decorator. For a while, when she had stopped making quilts, if there was a hole in a towel she would embroider over it and it would be beautiful," her daughter said. "She could make much out of very little."

Ms. Scott retired about 1970 and began making quilts based upon her life experiences. She exhibited under the name Elizabeth Caldwell Talford Scott.

"After this time, her quilts took on new shapes, materials and forms, including stones, shells, pine cones, beads, buttons, men's ties and found objects that held special meaning to family and friends," said George Ciscle, who spoke at her funeral Saturday and is curator in residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He said she embroidered and beaded fabrics with "vibrantly colored and reflective cloths from around the world." He said she used "unexpected shapes and patterns that stray from the normal concept of quilt making." The decorations on her densely stitched surfaces included undersea creatures, insects, fanciful monsters and flora and fauna, he said.

The Maryland Institute College of Art mounted a retrospective of her work in 1998. The show traveled to the Smithsonian Institution and the New England Quilt Museum.

"To look at Elizabeth Scott's quilts is to see a world of life and a world of art. They refer back to her African ancestors' way of making fabrics, and they resemble abstract art. They reflect her parents and grandparents and growing up on a South Carolina plantation. They include the world around, from stars to insects, that everyone can recognize. And they embody emotions that everyone knows," Mr. Ciscle said in his remarks.

In 1991, Baltimore Sun art critic John Dorsey reviewed textile works displayed at Artscape. He said, "Without a doubt the most moving work here is Elizabeth Scott's Tie Quilt. Made of buttons, men's ties and other stuff, it is somehow, inexplicably, filled with hope and sadness and love."

Ms. Scott supported a theater and film organization for young adults, WombWork Productions, where a fund has been established in her name.

Charlie Scott Jr., her significant other, died in 2005.

In addition to Ms. Scott's daughter, survivors include two of Mr. Scott's children whom she helped raise, Coy Scott of Durham, N.C., and Lois Cash Scott of Baltimore.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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